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59 Rivoli

In today’s blog post we will explore a very interesting building in Paris, France! Located in the heart of Paris, not really far from the Louvre, there is a different type of art gallery. Its name is 59 Rivoli and it got its name from the address of the building.

How everything began!

The building at 59 Rivoli was formerly a branch of the Crédit Lyonnais bank and it was abandoned for 15 years by the French state before artists took over the six-storey space. The building is from the Haussmannian period of urban renewal and growth in the mid-1800s. It has a 6-spiral staircase in the middle of the building that climbs 6 floors and it is surrounded by brightly coloured murals on the walls and floors.

But everything started on November 1, 1999 when Kalex, Gaspard and Bruno managed to open up the cemented-over door of the building. Shortly after, a lot of other artists showed up to help clean the abandoned building which as we can imagine, it was very dirty and full of dead pigeons, syringes, rubble etc. They had a 3-purpose vision for this project. Firstly, they wanted to revive an unused empty place, then to create a place for artists to create, live, and expose and lastly to prove to the public eye the validity of a cultural alternative!

A very interesting detail is that the whole building is painted, from the walls to the stairs to the entrance , everywhere you look is a work of art by an artist!

Problems with the state

After their opening, these artists formed a group called "Chez Robert, Electron Libre." They organized show openings, performances, and concerts and opened the building to the public daily for some hours. But the French state made a complaint against the artists and they were scheduled to be evicted on February 4, 2000. Thankfully with the help of their lawyer, Florence Diffre, they got a delay of six months on their eviction. With all this happening, the press became very interested in the phenomenon and, because of this, the government didn't pursue that matter for several years. In 2006 the building and its purpose were legalized by the city 2006 onwards

A very interesting fact is that Bertrand Delanoë, a candidate for the mayor of Paris loved the place and promised that if he were elected mayor, he would legalize their permit of staying in the building so that the artists would have a place to work without worrying about being thrown out. He kept his promise!

What is happening today?

Today, the building works with 30 artist studios and it’s open to the public 6 days a week from 1:00 p.m. to 8 p.m. This is a real cultural alternative way to present art that allows for more democratic access to its creation, both for the artists and for the public because there is no entrance fee. You are free to donate to the entrance or to buy some art directly from the artists. The artists who are creating and living in the building are temporary and they change every couple of months so probably if you go once, you’ll see something that you’ll never see again!

59 Rivoli is brought popular enthusiasm of tens of thousands of visitors each year, sometimes as many as 4,000 visitors a week coming for the art gallery, for concerts that are happening inside the building, or maybe for the party that the artists thought!

The 59 Rivoli, has become one of the three most visited sites of contemporary art in Paris and one of the ten most visited places in France!

Here are some of the works of the artists:

59 Rivoli is a bright example of what would happen if people took abandoned places and turned them into art centres or something else open to the public! Those people gave life to something that was forgotten and abandoned by the state and by the rest of the people and they achieved to make it into something that is a piece of art that will stay unchanged through time.

*All the pictures in this article are taken by me during my visit to the 59 Rivoli in October 2021 but all the art belongs to the artists who created it.

Written by Foteini Skiza.

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